Inquirer Editorial: Keep sights on gun control

MARK WILSON / Getty Images
MARK WILSON / Getty Images
Posted: January 09, 2013

The raw grief in Newtown, Conn., over its elementary school massacre is not even one month old, yet there's talk from top Washington Republican circles that the nation's pressing fiscal problems might crowd out comprehensive anti-gun-violence measures for now.

Well, Congress should be able to walk, chew gum, and find the elusive safety latch on America's frightening arsenal of guns.

In the wake of the slaying of 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School - and the haunting recounting of the July Colorado theater shooting during court testimony this week - the need for broad-based steps to stem gun violence should remain high atop the national agenda.

Indeed, President Obama vows that measures being put together by Vice President Biden and a working group that includes Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and other law enforcement experts "is not something that I will be putting off."

That vow acknowledges the danger that the nation too easily could forget the horror of a mass shooting in which 6- and 7-year-olds were, in effect, sacrificed to the National Rifle Association's insistence that high-powered guns are essential to preserving Second Amendment rights.

In addition to second-guessing the likely timing of antiviolence reforms - as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) did on a Sunday talk show - some gun-rights advocates are questioning the scope of the federal response to Newtown.

But while a freshman Democratic North Dakota congresswoman over the weekend warned against "extreme" measures, the emerging White House strategy looks to be comprehensive, not radical.

There's little doubt that Congress will be asked to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, as well as take steps to diminish a killer's firepower with curbs on large-capacity ammunition clips. The sale or manufacture of dozens of semiautomatic rifle models and military-style handguns also should be outlawed, as they would be under a proposal expected from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.).

To stop there, though, would be far short of what's needed to address other key factors in mass killings that have occurred with horrifying frequency. So it's encouraging to hear that the Biden group's proposals could be much broader, particularly in their potential to prevent the mentally ill from gaining access to weapons.

In considering measures such as universal background checks for firearms buyers, a national database to track weapons sales, harsh penalties for carrying guns near schools and arming minors, and stronger mental-health safeguards, Biden's task force appears to be well on track.

Also hopeful are reports that the White House might get creative, by working with WalMart and other gun retailers to rally support for reforms that, in turn, could aid sales to law-abiding gun owners.

Along with a welcome groundswell among teachers' union ranks for the sweeping reform that's needed, it just might be possible to maintain momentum - and soon honor those slain first graders' memory by making America safer from guns.

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